“Comedy Cuts” x 2: The intertwined careers of two of comedy’s funniest female stand-up comics, Joy Behar & Rosie O’Donnell

By on August 11, 2016

In the summer of 1986 and again in ’87, two of comedy’s funniest female stand-up comics — Joy Behar and Rosie O’Donnell — both made short appearances on “Night Flight”‘s “Comedy Cuts.” You can watch both of their episodes — #5 and #3 — right now on our Night Flight Plus channel.

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The twenty year difference in their ages notwithstanding, their lengthy comedy careers would continue to intersect over the years, and both eventually ended up co-hosting ABC’s morning talk show, “The View,” were they continued to offer up sometimes controversial opinions and pithy quips on a variety of topics (usually both were sitting down instead of doing stand-up routines on a small club stage).

Behar and O’Donnell’s intertwined comedic paths crossed frequently over the years.

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Rosie O’Donnell — born on March 21, 1962, in Commack, New York — may have actually made her appearance on “Night Flight” before Behar, appearing on our fifth anniversary show on Friday, June 6, 1986 (although the “Comedy Cuts” episode we have showing here actually aired sometime in 1987). She was just 23 years old at the time.

Brooklyn-born Joy Behar was 39 years old when she appeared on her episode of “Comedy Cuts,” which aired a little over thirty years ago, on August 2, 1986.

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Behar obviously began doing stand-up comedy before O’Donnell did, sometime around 1980, after she’d already begun a career in teaching. After graduating from Queens College and the State University of New York at Stony Brook with a master’s degree in English education, she’d started teaching junior high-level English classes in 1968.

However, she’d always wanted to be a comedian, and after almost dying during an ectopic pregnancy in 1979, when she was 37 years old, she decided that life was too short to spend it doing something other than what you love, and what she loved was to make people laugh.

So, she took a job as a receptionist at ABC’s “Good Morning America”, where she hoped she’d be able to be discovered.

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Finally, after a divorce and once things got settled down again in her life, she got the opportunity to perform onstage, and began working her way up through the ranks of New York City’s comedy clubs, such as Caroline’s and Rick Newman’s Catch A Rising Star comedy club, located on 1st Avenue between East 78th Street and East 77th Street, in uptown NYC.

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The “Catch” — as it is affectionately called in the comedy club world — first opened its doors in New York City in 1972. It’s only comedy club that has ever had two major network television specials produced about it: “Catch A Rising Star’s 10th Anniversary”, which aired on HBO, and “Catch A Rising Star’s 25th Anniversary,” which was broadcast on CBS.

The club became well known as one of the top clubs for discovering new talent, and Night Flight’s Stuart Shapiro frequently dropped in to catch new sets by Chris Rock and others, and in 1987 was able to film Rosie O’Donnell performing at the “Catch,” where she discussed dating advice from her mother, did Elvis impressions and talked about how she spontaneously likes to break out into song, which, as she told the crowd back then, happened at least three times a day.

O’Donnell had a considerably different start in the entertainment business, compared with Behar, bitten by the funny bug when she was still in high school, where she was a popular student, elected both prom and homecoming queen, and she was voted the student with the most “school spirit” and elected class president before she graduated.

Mostly, though, she loved to make her classmates laugh, imitating “Saturday Night Live” characters and copying Jerry Seinfeld’s monologues, writing her own jokes and working towards a career in comedy early on.

After school, she spent the next five years on a stand-up comedy tour, traveling around to 49 U.S. states, returning home to go back to school, studying briefly at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Boston University before she got the itch to get back out there on the stage again.

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In 1984, she made five winning appearances on TV’s popular “Star Search” show, and then moved to Los Angeles, where she landed a part on the last season of NBC’s popular sitcom “Gimme a Break.”

Then, she ended up on VH1 as a VJ, introducing music videos. In due time she convinced the cable network to develop a comedy program, “Stand-Up Spotlight,” and signed on to host the show for the next four years, which introduced a lot of new comedians to the world.

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By the time she appeared on “Night Flight”‘s “Comedy Cuts,” she was already well known in the comedy world, and frequently crossed paths with Behar, who in 1987 — the year after appearing on her episode of “Comedy Cuts” — would land her own Lifetime channel variety series, “Way Off Broadway”, which lasted just one season.

Behar continued on, just as O’Donnell did, scoring small roles in movies and touring comedy clubs. She appeared in 1989’s Cookie, with Peter Falk, and in Nora Ephron’s This is My Life, in 1992, and in Woody Allen’s 1993 comedy Manhattan Murder Mystery, before landing a role on the 1988 TV series “Baby Boom” and hosting the popular WABC-NY call-in radio show.

All of these roles prepared her for a co-hosting gig that came along in 1997 and would last many years, when the ABC network began developing a daily morning talk show. It was called “The View.”

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Behar and her co-hosts would earn several Emmy award nominations — for Outstanding Talk Show — over the next several years, and on April 28, 2006, an announcement was made at the 33rd Daytime Emmys that, for the show’s tenth season, Rosie O’Donnell would once again be crossing paths with Behar and joining “The View” as co-host and moderator.

By then, O’Donnell’s career had soared to incredible heights. She’d appeared in popular movies, often as a lovable sidekick to the featured star (she was Madonna’s gal pal in A League Of Their Own, in 1992, and played Meg Ryan’s best friend in 1994’s Sleepless in Seattle).

She also appeared in memorable, critically-praised roles in lesser known films like 1996’s Beautiful Girls and also appeared on Broadway as Rizzo in Tommy Tune’s Broadway revival of Grease!

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However, she missed the thrill she got from performing stand-up comedy, so in 1995, after taking a few years off, O’Donnell returned briefly to stand-up in order to prepare for an HBO comedy special.

That special certainly had a hand in her being given her own daytime TV show, “‘The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” which aired on NBC, beginning in 1996.

By now a mother, raising two adopted children (the producers of her show had a deluxe child’s nursery built for her at Studio 8G in Rockefeller Center, where her show was taped), and O’Donnell quickly earned a reputation as the “Queen of Nice” for her frank sense of humor, and light-hearted banter with her guests and interactions with the audience.

She received two Emmy awards — one for Outstanding Talk Show and another for Outstanding Talk Show Host.

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O’Donnell occasionally made appearances in movies, voiced animated characters in feature films and cartoons and enjoyed a long run with her talk show, which she decided to leave when her contract expired in 2002.

She wanted to spend more time with her kids, and also hoped to focus more time on her nonprofit organization, which helped facilitate the process of adoption between birth mothers and adoptive families. Her longtime friend and fellow stand-up comedian, Caroline Rhea, began hosting the Friday episodes of the show for the last two years of O’Donnell’s contract, ultimately getting her own show, “The Caroline Rhea Show.”

We’re leaving out a lot, of course, but certainly you can see how it was a big deal for Rosie O’Donnell to come back to TV and join “The View” in 2006, making her debut in September of that year, and why it was also a big deal when just a few months later, on May 25, 2007, when ABC announced that they could not come to terms with O’Donnell while negotiating the length of her contract for the show and she had asked to be able to leave the show immediately, after just nine months.

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Just a few years later, in 2009, Joy Behar announced that she too was being given her own show, on the HLN network. It was a talk show/news program called, what else?, “The Joy Behar Show,” which she intended to appear on in addition to her co-hosting “The View.”

That show aired on HLN until 2011, before moving to Current TV, and being revamped, in 2012, as “Joy Behar: Say Anything!,” where it was canceled after just one season.

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We’re leaving out quite a bit about Behar’s career here too — like O’Donnell, who wrote her own memoirs, Joy Behar would end up writing a non-fiction book, the comedy-rich Joy Shtick: or What Is the Existential Vacuum and Does It Come with Attachments?, in addition to authoring a monthly advice column in Good Housekeeping magazine, among other creative endeavors — but in the Spring of 2013, at 70 years of age, after sixteen seasons, Behar announced that she, too, was stepping away from “The View.”

At the time she was hoping to get back to doing what she’d really wanted to do all those years earlier, and that was focusing on writing and stand-up comedy, in addition to appearing in movies occasionally and enjoying the life she’d earned for herself.

However, in August 2015, she decided to re-join “The View” again, and today remains on the show.

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Rosie O’Donnell, meanwhile, and somewhat unbelievably, also returned to “The View,” in the fall of 2014, but, once again, it was short-lived — she would leave again, this time after just six months, citing her reasons this time as a “personal decision.” She made her last appearance on the show on February 12, 2015.

We have to imagine that Behar and O’Donnell’s intertwined comedic paths will cross again, they simply have to, but until they do, we offer up these early examples of their stand-up comedy routines and making audiences laugh, and we have to ask you to imagine if you could have predicted that the trajectories of their stories careers would be both be so extensive and varied, based on what they were both saying onstage, in these small comedy club settings, in the mid-80s.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.